Turbine blades power into hi-tech future

Artist impression: Bond Bryan's designs for the Rolls-Royce facility
Artist impression: Bond Bryan's designs for the Rolls-Royce facility
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They are small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, weigh no more than a few hundred grams and remain solid, despite being surrounded by gas that is 200ºC hotter than the melting point of the nickel-based super alloy from which they are made.

Each one generates more horsepower than a Formula 1 engine and, as it spins round 12,000 times a minute, the centrifugal force at its tip is equivalent to the weight of a London bus.

They are turbine blades and, once Rolls-Royce’s new Advanced Blade Casting Facility on the Advanced Manufacturing Park is completed, in 2014, it will be making 100,000 of them a year – about 25 per cent of the blades the company produces.

The aero engine giant says the 150,000 sq ft factory will be the most advanced blade casting facility in the world and will use innovative techniques and technologies to keep the company at the competitive forefront of engine development.

In order to withstand the massive stresses and temperatures without deforming over time, each blade must be cast as a single metal crystal, because it is the boundaries between crystals that weaken the material and make it more susceptible to “creep.”

What’s more, the blades aren’t solid – internal channels have to be built in to allow cooling air to circulate within, to help to keep the metal well below its melting point.

According to Mike Mosley, executive vice-president for turbines, who will add the Advanced Manufacturing Park site to his existing responsibilities for ten other plants, Rolls-Royce is one of only three organisations world wide capable of achieving that.

Mr Mosley said the Sheffield City Region’s long-standing reputation for hi-tech engineering skills weighed heavily in the Derby-based business’s decision to develop on the Advanced Manufacturing Park site.

“There are plenty of hi-tech companies established here, some excellent skills and there will be some excellent opportunities for young people to get a job with Rolls-Royce,” said Mr Mosley.